They Called Me Osama is a Sikh filmmaker’s effort to make Americans aware of the Sikh religion.
They Called Me Osama is a short documentary about the Sikhs in the United States. It was released earlier this month. The documentary was made by Maneetpaul Singh Chawla, a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, with funding from the University's IDEA grant program. It is an expression of the discrimination and the racial abuse faced by the Sikh community in America. It is also an effort from Chawla to make the Americans aware of the Sikh religion, and educate them about the various virtues of the religion.
In an interview given to NBC News, Chawla said that he made the film for the people who have never heard about Sikhs before. He knows from first-hand experience that majority of the American public does not know anything about Sikhism, and why they look and dress the way they do. Chawla is hoping that his documentary would help spread awareness about Sikhism, and answer some of the basic questions that people have when they first see a Sikh.
The documentary features Jagraj Singh, a British YouTuber, conducting street interviews, at Times Square, to find out what people know about Sikhs. The video shows, in the beginning, a lot of people just rushing past him, refusing to talk to him. Then, when he manages to get a few people to talk to him, most of the time he gets blank responses to his question about whether they know anything about the Sikh people. Jagraj then takes a few of the willing people aside and gives them a crash course on the religion. The documentary also features interviews with several Sikh Americans who have been victims of racial abuse.
— Frances Kai-Hwa Wang (@fkwang) May 31, 2016
According to Pabhjrot Singh, a Columbia University professor who is featured in the documentary, about three years ago he got attacked because of his appearance. The attackers called him “Osama” and a “terrorist.” Another racial abuse victim featured in the video is Balpreet Singh, an Ohio State University student. According to her, she was targeted on Reddit for having facial hair. Japjee Singh, a Georgia high school student, in the video, recounts his experiences about being bullied in the middle school.
Sikhs have been living in America for over 125 years. According to the advocates for Sikhs, hate violence against them has increased in recent years, especially after the 9/11 attacks. The main reason for that is mistaken identity. Sikhs, with their turbans and beards, are often mistaken for Muslims.
In an interview given to The Huffington Post, Chawla said that the intention of the film is also to show the American people that Sikhism is an independent religion, separate from Islam or Hinduism. However, he is not trying to shift the blame to Muslims or any other religious group.